What happened to Woolvett?
Hard luck followed actor after Unforgiven role
It remains one of the most baffling disappearances in Hollywood history. In 1992, movie audiences were introduced to Hamilton, Ont.-born actor Jaimz Woolvett. From seemingly out of nowhere, the then 24-year-old offered a stunning performance in Clint Eastwood’s critical and box office juggernaut, Unforgiven.
As the arrogant young killer the Scofield Kid, Woolvett was forced to transform himself from cocky and cold-blooded to withered and squeamish in the film. His performance was hailed as a highlight in a movie full of A-list talent, including Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris.
Then, as quickly as he had appeared, Woolvett seemed to disappear back into obscurity.
“The premiere was a really big night,” says Woolvett, who lives with his wife and two children in southern Ontario. “There were all these famous people around. There was the jets and limos to pick you up. It was like, OK, I could see how someone could totally insulate themselves in this. . . but I never bought into the stylists and publicists. . . they are big part of the whole ‘big star machine.’ ”
Fifteen years later, Woolvett acknowledges his breakthrough role will probably remain the high mark of a career plagued by bad timing, lawsuits and, most recently, devastating health problems.
In 1991, Woolvett was already a veteran actor in Canada when Warner Bros. began holding auditions in Toronto. In a burst of Scofield-like cockiness, Woolvett decided not to audition for a bit part as he originally planned and read instead for the meatier role of the novice gunfighter. Six auditions later, he landed the role and arrived in Alberta to film the western epic, Unforgiven.
With money in the bank and assuming he was a hot property, Woolvett travelled to Los Angeles after the shoot with his wife. Unfortunately, he arrived nearly a year before anyone had seen Unforgiven. Nobody knew who he was.
“We should have come out the year the movie premiered,” says Woolvett. “But I didn’t have my business chaps. It was a total mistake on my part. But life is what it is.”
Eventually, Woolvett signed on to a New Zealand TV show based on Jack London’s adventure, White Fang.
“I was told not to do it, but I had been hitting the bank machine for 14 months,” he says. “Nobody wanted to give me work. They had not seen the movie.”
Woolvett became tangled up in the New Zealand production just as he should have been reaping the rewards from his performance in Unforgiven. White Fang prevented him from starring in the Lonesome Dove TV series, in a role that was apparently written with him in mind. Woolvett eventually sued the company behind White Fang for interfering with the casting and received a reported $3.2-million settlement. But much of the momentum was gone.
He continued to work steadily as an actor, mostly in indie dramas or Bmovies and television guest shots. The only other “big Hollywood” entry in his filmography is the 1995 Hughes Brothers Vietnam drama Dead Presidents.
But the drama wasn’t over. Nearly a decade after his most famous role, Woolvett faced the biggest trauma of his life.
“I woke up one morning and it was if someone had turned off a switch on my left ear,” he says. “My hearing was just gone over night.”
After a number of tests, a brain tumour was discovered. In 2001, he endured risky surgery to have it removed. He was later diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a chronic and incurable bone disease.
After years of physiotherapy, Woolvett says he is putting his name back out there in hopes of reviving his career, although he admits his condition limits him to “less physical” roles.
But even if he never lands another Scofield Kid, he says being a part of one of the most influential films of the 1990s will be enough.
“Just to say that you had the opportunity to hang with Clint and Gene and Morgan and Richard in a western and contribute to the film, how do you top that?” he says. “You know what? You don’t. It doesn’t matter what else you do.”
Actor Jaimz Woolvett had a pivotal role in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.